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Valley man says shooting bear saved him from mauling

Others say it's dangerous to discharge firearms in neighborhoods

Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2002

An old-timer from the Valley who has publicly called for the killing of troublesome bears says a friend recently saved him from a mauling by shooting the bear that approached him.

Rudy Maier said his friend killed the black bear a few feet from Maier's River Road home on the evening of June 15. The friend, who had seen the bear before it approached Maier, used a rifle that Maier keeps loaded and near his front door, Maier said.

Maier, who is 66 and an amputee with an artificial leg, said he was returning from visiting another friend in a trailer on his property, just a few yards from his home, when he heard growling, looked up and saw the bear approaching. The bear was between him and his front door. Maier's back was to a car in front of the trailer.

"I was only about 10 feet away and he's clicking his teeth and growling. If (the rifle) hadn't been there, I'm quite sure I'd have been mauled," Maier said.

"When you're caught in a situation like that, thought doesn't really happen. You just sort of go, 'Whoa.' Your heart speeds up about 40 times."

Sgt. Steve Hall, a wildlife protection trooper in Juneau who investigated the shooting, said it was a justifiable defense of life and property, as the law allows. Hall declined to name who shot the bear.

But Pat Costello, a photographer who runs a Web site about the bear/garbage problem in Juneau, juneaubears.com, said discharging firearms in neighborhoods is a major concern.

"He does live in a more rural setting than some, but I think it's a bad message for people to get - that if they have a bear in their yard they should shoot it," Costello said.

Maier called the police shortly after the shooting. Sgt. Hall visited the site the next day and examined the bear, an adult male weighing about 230 pounds. Hall said Maier's garbage was secured in an enclosure.

"The bear didn't get into any garbage at that time, and there was no sign or statements that the bear had gotten garbage from that location in the recent past," Hall said.

Maier said a black bear tore open his wooden garbage enclosure last summer, and the state Department of Fish and Game subsequently live-trapped a bear on his property.

The bear last summer was strong enough to pull off the enclosure's wooden 2-by-6s that were held by 16-penny nails. On Saturday, Maier pointed to metal hinges that were bent at the time, and showed where the bear had bitten the wooden slats.

He rebuilt the enclosure using bolts to hold the 2-by-6s to 4-by-4 posts. He put thick crossbars over the gates of the enclosure. Maier cites his efforts to comply with Juneau's garbage ordinance as evidence that securing trash doesn't keep bears away.

The ordinance, passed in 2001 and amended this year, sets times for garbage to be put out, and requires that garbage be kept in a bear-resistant enclosure or container the rest of the time.

"I've gone out of my way to save the bears, to go along with everything, but there comes a point where you've had enough," Maier said. "It's just a matter of time before someone caught in this situation is mauled or killed."

Maier said a bear with three cubs also has been visiting his property this summer. Last year bears were on his deck several times, and one pushed on the sliding glass doors to his kitchen.

Bear-resistant enclosures that pass muster with the city may not pass muster with bears, Costello said.

"When people do have problems and bears are visiting their property on a regular basis, they need to re-examine their garbage management practices," he said.

In a letter to the editor of the Empire, published March 25, Maier said that in the past when bears were trouble "we got rid of them."

In an interview Saturday, Maier said he grew up in the Valley and remembers when the area had farms and the Loop Road was two wagon tracks with grass growing between them.

He said people in those days shot bears that endangered lives or property, and most bears stayed away from people. Maier said that as a teen-ager he shot three bears that were marauding his family's chickens, but hasn't shot one since.

"I'm not a bear-hater," he said. "I love to watch animals. I don't like to shoot them. (But) there's a whole lot of this stuff that goes too far, with 'save the bear, save the bear,' until someone gets killed."

Marc Wheeler, who was the Juneau Assembly's liaison to the Ad Hoc Bear Committee, which issued recommendations that led to the garbage ordinance in 2001, said there was a lot of discussion in the group about killing bears.

"I think the committee wanted to focus on preventing those problems," he said.

There have been years when the police and Fish and Game have shot 12 to 15 bears in Juneau, but police decided last summer not to shoot bears unless they were an extreme danger to humans.

City officials and members of the bear committee have said Juneau has a garbage problem, not a bear problem.

But Maier is concerned that several generations of bears have learned to eat garbage, and now that there's less garbage available, they'll turn to pets or humans.

The bear that was shot June 15 had been trapped by Fish and Game in May 1998 in the Salmon Creek area and relocated to near the end of Glacier Highway, Costello said.

To Maier that just shows that relocating troublesome bears isn't the answer.

"Moving them certainly doesn't do any good," he said. "What you have to do is face reality."

But killing bears doesn't solve the problem for the same reason that relocating bears doesn't work, city and state officials have said.

"It's not this bear you have to worry about," state wildlife biologist Neil Barten told the Empire last year. "It's the next one and the next one and the next one after that."

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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